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The Guild Counsel: To vent or not to vent

Karen Bryan

As we've looked at the ins and outs of managing a guild, one issue that's often overlooked is whether to vent or not to vent. No, not the Minus 50 DKP type of vent -- I'm talking about Ventrilo and voice chat in general. Ten years ago, guild leaders didn't have to worry about this, because the choice was between typing text or hosting a LAN party. But today, with the rise of voice chat clients like Ventrilo and in-game voice services like Vivox, the culture has changed quite a bit.

In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll take a look at the benefits of type vs. voice chat, and we'll look at what role each plays in guild management. Whether you sleep with your headset on or cling to your keyboard, read on for a look at why both have their merits.

In the year 10,000 B.C., there was text

Whether by playing MUDs or diving into EverQuest, I learned very quickly that my typing skills were as important as my combat and in-game abilities. In fact, I think I had it easier as a guild leader precisely because I could type fast. Trying to manage a 100+ person raid usually meant I had to field dozens of tells, both from players in my raid and from players in other guilds who were competing for the same content. Our guild was largely able to avoid the messiness of "First come first serve" because it was easy for me to send over a few innocuous tells to the rival guild leader in order to defuse the situation and see whether we could work something out. More often than not, we could, and when we couldn't, at least we were both able to accept the notions of a "fair fight" and "to the winner go the spoils."

Type serves many purposes in MMOs. Roleplaying is one of the biggest, since it's obviously hard to believe a high elf female with a deep, gravely voice. But type also slowed down the game, in a good way. The fact that people had to wait for a reply from someone actually made the game feel as if it moved at a more relaxed pace. And the brief pauses between tells gave you that much more time to absorb the world around you.

As a history buff, I also feel that the written word is something very valuable in MMOs. Memorable quotes (both good and bad) help to preserve a bit of history for a guild or a group of friends. Players still use screenshotted quotes in their forum signatures, and while some of them are mistells that probably weren't meant for the public, others serve as a record of an individual or guild accomplishment or a key moment in history for that community. Quotes provide a frame of reference that helps to paint the picture of what life is like for a particular MMO community, and that's important.

On the other hand, one would think that taking the time to type would create a more thoughtful and less impulsive reply, but that actually turned out not to be the case. If I had a nickel for every tell or forum post that was later regretted, I could retire to the Bahamas. Even though it's more effort to type than it is to push a button, you have a bit more distance between you and the person you're speaking to, which often makes it easier to say things without holding back.

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

With the rise of voice chat, there were several changes in MMO culture. Let's look at a few:

Voice chat means there's less drama. Let's face it, it's harder to get angry at people when you hear their voices. It's one thing to type an angry message, but it's another to actually say it and then have to hear the person respond and know what affect it had on him.

It makes fights easier. The need for instant communication is crucial when raiding, grouping, etc. Guild leaders need to make on-the-fly calls, and with voice chat, it's much easier to make adjustments mid-fight. There's an argument that voice chat actually dumbs the game down too much and takes away too much challenge from a fight, but I think what's actually happened over the years is that endgame fights have been tuned around the fact that guilds use voice chat. So those who choose to raid without it are actually almost raiding with one hand tied behind their back. I was a die-hard chat purist for a long time, and I still bemoan the loss of hilarious and well-timed raid macros to call AoEs or give instructions, but I gradually accepted the reality that voice chat is an accepted part of raiding and that going without is a real disadvantage.

Voice chat is easier on those with health issues. I have three guildmates who suffer from health conditions that make it hard for them to use the keyboard. So for them, it's much easier to use Vivox or Vent than it is to try to type. In that sense, I'm glad that voice chat is available, because it makes it easier to enjoy the game and juggle friendly conversation without having to deal with the difficulties of typing.

But a word of caution...

If you choose to go with a third-party voice chat program, you are assuming responsibility over it. In-game chat is moderated (/report, /ban), but you are on your own when it comes to moderating a voice server. And the last thing you'd want is to log in and find out that SkippyPaladin is in a private chat room with three underage players on your server. There's a reason that children's MMOs don't have voice chat and do have a heavy-handed chat filter.

Consideration should be given to players with hearing impairments. We had a guildie once who was partially deaf, and while he was able to use Ventrilo, we also tried to supplement instructions with text when we could.

It is also important to protect your voice server. I'm sure the guys out there who saw The Guild probably wouldn't mind Felicia Day hacking into their servers, but in general, anyone who crashes your party is probably up to no good.

Even your choice of what service to use is important. Ventrilo is widely popular in some games, so it's much easier to coordinate voice chat with pick-up groups or raids when you know that almost everyone has Vent already downloaded and is generally familiar with it. On the other hand, players of other games swear by Teamspeak or Mumble and prefer the features, customization, and low latency that they feel makes it a preferred voice server. The downside is that it might take time to help get a new user set up and comfortable with whatever your choice is.

The future

The one thing that seems certain is that voice chat is only going to become more accepted. MMOs like DC Universe Online have already tapped into the console crowd, and Star Wars: The Old Republic is sure to pull in quite a few more. That will mean that the use of voice isn't going anywhere, so chat purists might find themselves having a harder time trying to stick to their keyboard. But for now, those who prefer their keyboards still have a strong presence. And to that I say, /cheer!

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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